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    Best Parental Control Apps 2019

    The best parental controls for managing apps, filtering websites and logging activities

    The digital age can be particularly challenging for parents whose kids have smartphones loaded with messaging apps such as Snapchat, TikTok or Kik. Those kids may really believe that their texts, tweets or viral videos can’t wait until the following morning.

    The best parental control apps for smartphones can help you track your kids, see with whom the kids are communicating, block kids from viewing objectionable or dangerous websites, and even help kids understand the value of limits while preventing them from accessing adult content or communicating with strangers.

    No single parental-control service we tested is perfect, but Net Nanny (formerly Zift) delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management on both Android and iOS devices. (All of these apps can do more on Android than on iOS, due to Apple’s tight restrictions.)

    Norton Family Premier was a close runner-up for the best parental-control app. Unlike Net Nanny, Norton’s service offers text-message logging and monitoring, but only on Android devices. Norton Family Premier also lets you monitor Windows PCs.

    Parents on tight budgets should consider Kaspersky Safe Kids. Its free tier includes web monitoring, time limits and app management, and its full-featured, paid plan is just $15 per year for an unlimited number of devices, including PCs and Macs.

    BEST OVERALL AND GREAT FOR IOS

    Net Nanny Parental Control

    Best overall and great for iOS

    Great design
    excellent web filters
    near parity between Android, iOS versions
    No call/text monitoring
    a bit expensive

    Zift/Net Nanny has excellent web-filtering technology and modern, intuitive design. Among all the parental-control apps we tried, it comes closest to having feature parity between its iOS and Android versions. Its iOS abilities don’t seem to have been affected by recent Apple policy changes.

    Net Nanny can track your child’s location, display their location history, and set time allowances and schedules equally well on both platforms. The iOS version lets you block several dozen apps on your kid’s phone; the Android one lets you block them all. (Tom’s Guide readers save $10 off each of Net Nanny’s plans.)

    The only thing Net Nanny can’t do on a smartphone is to monitor calls or texts. No apps we tested can do that on iOS, but several do on Android.

     

    TOP PICK FOR ANDROID

    Norton Family Premier

    Top pick for Android

    Wide feature set
    great web filters and monitoring
    unlimited devices
    works with Windows
    Clunky parental app
    expensive for a single device or child
    no geofencing

    Norton Family Premier’s power and features are ideal for Android (and Windows) households with many children, offering nearly every feature a parent could want.

    This service’s location-tracking, time-scheduling, and web-filtering and -monitoring capabilities work on both iOS and Android, but time allowances are for only Windows and Android. App management and text-message monitoring don’t work on iOS at all. There’s no geofencing on either platform.

    Norton Family Premier comes free if you spring for one of Norton’s more expensive antivirus suites, such as Norton 360 Deluxe, which is often discounted to as little as $50 per year. At that price, getting Norton Family Premier along with Norton’s excellent antivirus protection is a no-brainer.

     

    GREAT PARENTAL CONTROL BARGAIN

    Kaspersky Safe Kids

    Great parental control bargain

    Very affordable
    lots of free features
    monitors PCs, Macs too
    Confusing user interface
    web portal slow at times

    Like Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you monitor your kids’ activities on PCs and Macs, as well as on smartphones. Even better, Kaspersky’s paid tier is only $15 per year, and even its free plan lets you set time limits, filter websites and manage other apps.

    Kaspersky’s location tracking and geofencing work in both iOS and Android, as do its web monitoring and device scheduling. But app management is limited on iOS, and the iOS app can’t monitor calls or texts at all. Still, if you don’t feel a need to read your kids’ text messages, then Kaspersky Safe Kids is well worth considering.

    In March 2019, Kaspersky Lab filed an antitrust complaint against Apple for allegedly forcing the removal of some features from Kaspersky Safe Kids. Apple hinted in June 2019 that it might relax some of its tighter restrictions on iOS parental-control apps with iOS 13, but we haven’t yet seen anything different and Kaspersky’s complaint is ongoing.

     

    BEST MULTIPLATFORM SUPPORT

    Qustodio

    Best multiplatform support

    Wide feature set: monitors Macs, PCs, and Amazon Fire tablets
    Powerful call, text monitoring on Android
    Expensive
    No geofencing
    Outdated web portal

    Qustodio has software for Macs, PCs. iOS and Android devices and Amazon Fire tablets, and it lets you set time limits for individual apps and individual devices.

    This service’s limited location tracking works on both iOS and Android, although there’s no geofencing option. However, a Family Locator feature that shows you where all your kids are at once was added in September 2019.

    You can manage only a few dozen apps on iOS, as opposed to all Android apps. Web filtering is more powerful on iOS while monitoring texts and calls works on only Android.

    The one big drawback is that Qustodio can get darn expensive, costing up to $138 per year for 15 devices. In early 2019, Qustodio experimented with offering a much cheaper three-device plan for $40 per year, but that did not last. (Note: For the time being, Qustodio is offering 10% off each of its plans.)

     

    GETS KIDS INVOLVED

    OurPact

    Gets kids involved

    Excellent design, navigation
    Gets kids actively involved
    Now back in the iOS App Store
    Limited web filters
    No call or text monitoring
    Can get expensive

    Once the most powerful parental-control app for iPhones, OurPact was hobbled by an Apple rule change in late 2018 that nixed the service’s geofencing, location tracking and time allowances on iOS. In early 2019, Apple quietly expelled OurPact from the App Store, but in July, after Apple eased up on its restrictions, OurPact was reinstated.

    At its peak, OurPact was the only parental-control app we tested that could manage or block any iOS app. It can still do so for Android devices. OurPact also gets kids involved in managing the daily allowance of screen time that you give them, and it does a good job of scheduling.

    Yet, its website filtering simply blocks porn, and it can’t monitor calls or texts at all, even on Android. However, you can block messaging apps, and OurPact remains a joy to use.

     

    DOES ONE THING VERY WELL

    Screen Time

    Does one thing very well

    Intuitive design
    handles access well
    task/reward system
    Pricey upcharges for location tracking, filters
    no text or call monitoring

    Screen Time does an excellent job of managing and scheduling kids’ device access. Unfortunately, this app doesn’t do a whole lot else on iOS devices. And it has baffling upcharges for location tracking and web filters, both of which come standard with other parental-control apps. (You get both features in the 14-day premium trial.)

    We liked how this service doles out additional screen time for chores or good deeds. But you can’t block apps on iOS, and there’s no call or text monitoring at all, although geofencing and location history were recently added.

     

    LEAVES ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

    ESET Parental Control for Android

    Leaves room for improvement

    Nice location features
    solid web filters
    unlimited devices
    Confusing user interface
    no call or text monitoring
    Android only

    ESET Parental Control for Android sticks to one platform, but it doesn’t shine even there, lacking text-message- and call-monitoring features. The free app management and time management do work well, as do the paid location tracking and geofencing.

    Still, the yearly plan is not worth paying for unless you get it bundled with ESET Smart Security Premium. That’s because Kaspersky Safe Kids does more than ESET at half the price.

     

    FULL-FEATURED BUT FRUSTRATING

    MMGuardian

    Full-featured but frustrating

    Wide Android feature set
    granular controls
    good web filters
    Few iOS features
    can get expensive
    terrible user interface

    MMGuardian has nearly every parental-control feature you might want, especially on Android, but the user interfaces are outdated and frustrating.

    Both the iOS and Android smartphone apps offer location tracking and excellent web filtering and have recently added an artificial intelligence component to spot nudity in saved images. App management is strong on Android but primitive on iOS. On Android, the parent can read every text and block any number. Time management and screen-time scheduling are also Android-only.

     

    Feature comparison chart

    Feature
    (bold = free)
    ESET Parental Control for Android Kaspersky Safe Kids MMGuardian Norton Family Premier OurPact Qustodio Screen Time Net Nanny/Zift
    Price Free to $30/year Free to $15/year Up to $70/year $50/year Free to $84/year Free to $138/year Free to $40/year Free to $90/year
    Number of devices Unlimited Unlimited 1 to 5 Unlimited 1 to 20 1 to 15 1 to 5 1 to 20
    Platforms Android Android, iOS, Windows, Mac Android, iOS Android, iOS, Windows Android Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows, Mac Android, iOS Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows
    Web portal for parents Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
    Call logging None Android only None None None Android only None None
    Text logging None Android only Android only Android only None Android only None None
    Text content None None Android only Android only None Android only None None
    Call blocking None None Android only None None Android only None None
    Text blocking None None Android only Android only None Android only None None
    Geofencing Android only Yes None None Yes None Yes, extra fee None
    Location tracking Android only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes, extra fee Yes
    Location history Android only None Android only Yes None Yes Yes, extra fee Yes
    Web monitoring Android only Yes Yes Yes None Yes Yes Yes
    Web filter Android only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Extra fee, Android only Yes
    Time limits Android only Yes Android only Android only Yes Yes Yes Yes
    Scheduling Android only Yes Yes (limited on iOS) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
    App management Android only Yes (limited on iOS) Android only Android only Yes Yes Yes, Android only Yes (limited on iOS)
    App blocker Android only Yes (limited on iOS) Yes (limited on iOS) Yes Yes Android only Yes

    How We Test and Rate the Best Parental Control Apps

    Evaluation Criteria
    We focus on apps that emphasize proactively setting up filters and limits before your child uses the phone rather than merely tracking activities after the fact. We take the following criteria into account:

    • Price: How much does the service cost annually? How many children and devices can you monitor or control?
    • Installation: How easy is it to install and configure each app on a child’s smartphone and a parent’s phone? Are there cross-platform compatibility issues?
    • App management: How well does the app monitor, block or restrict app usage? Does the app let you see all the other apps on the child’s device?
    • Filtering: What kind of filtering tools does each app offer, and how effectively do these tools restrict kids’ access to content that you deem inappropriate?
    • Time management: What kind of tools does the app provide for restricting the amount of time your child spends on his or her device(s)?
    • Texting and messaging management: Does the app let you review the content of your child’s text messages? Can you create rules for or block specific contacts? Are you notified of new contacts? Do the features extend beyond the built-in messaging app? Can you block messaging apps altogether?
    • Location tracking: Does the app let you locate your child in an emergency? Does it provide a continuous log of their previous locations? Does the app allow you to create geofenced areas for your child?

     

    We tested each app on every platform it supported twice, from installation to testing to uninstall. We typically monitored activity from the MacBook Pro, but if apps offered control from a smartphone app, we tested those features as well. Calls and texts for monitoring purposes were made from a secondary Android device.

    Android parental-control apps remain more robust than their iOS counterparts in most cases, especially with regard to call and text monitoring. But new additions to iOS have closed the gap somewhat. We note areas in which there are discrepancies in the functionality offered on each platform, but we are not providing distinct ratings and reviews for the iOS versus the Android version of each app.

    What We Didn’t Include

    Parental-control apps for mobile devices work best when they’re part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. That means talking to your kids about what they should and shouldn’t do with their mobile devices, clearly communicating how you expect them to act, and making clear that you will be monitoring what they do with their phones.

    For that reason, we avoided testing apps that can run in stealth mode on a child’s phone. There are many products that tout this capability, but some people use such services to spy not on their children, but on their spouses or on other adults. That is illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions and is often a factor in domestic abuse.

    In addition, we did not consider apps that offered the ability to record a child’s phone conversations. State laws vary on the legality of recording someone without his or her consent, and no states allow the recording of phone calls without either party’s consent.

    Norton, Kaspersky, and ESET also make antivirus software, and many antivirus products have parental controls built-in. To see how well those controls stack up against the stand-alone services, please see our overview of The Best (and Worst) Antivirus Software for Parents.

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